I’m Not Supposed to Be Here

Every student has a story. All you have to do is ask.

One of my favorite things to do each day is to eat in the dining hall with the students. Usually (and much to their initial chagrin) I will just approach a group of unsuspecting students who are eating and engaged in conversation, and simply say, “May I join you?”  I’m sure they are thinking, “What do you say to the president of our university other than, ‘Of course!’”

As one might expect, conversations usually begin with information about home towns and majors and then progress to discussions about how the semester is going. And they could easily end at that point as the students politely excuse themselves to head off to class. But if the conversation continues a little longer, I find that the students are more than willing to tell you “their story,” and open up to tell you why they are at Methodist. I find these to be some of the most fascinating conversations of my day.

One such meeting occurred recently over lunch. I noticed a student eating by himself so I invited myself to join him. After exchanging pleasantries, and understanding that I was not going to leave lunch without more of a conversation, this student stated, “I’m not supposed to be here.” I asked him to tell me more.

It seems that at an early age this student had some medical difficulties that led his physician to indicate to his family that he would never be able to do certain things. These included going to college or playing sports. What this doctor didn’t take into consideration was the power of a loving family and the personal drive of this student who was committed to succeeding. He went on to tell me that the day he received his acceptance letter to Methodist, he went to see the family doctor and showed him his letter. Yes, he was going to college, and yes, he was going to play football.

There are many stories like this one that I am privileged to hear as president, just by asking. I often say that I have the best job in America – because of having the best students in America. Every student has a story, and I find that they come to our University because of the opportunity to write the next chapter in their story. What Methodist does so well is provide opportunities for students to succeed. Many of them have hurdles to overcome – and one by one they learn that MU is committed to their success and to helping them create their own personal journey.

More than 40 years ago, as a first-generation college student with many hurdles to overcome, I, too, felt that “I’m not supposed to be here.” What made the difference in my journey were wonderful faculty mentors, capable staff, and engaging classmates who brought out the best in me. It’s amazing how little has changed in over four decades. The things that mattered to me still matter to today’s students.

So here’s my answer to these students who might say, “I’m not supposed to be here.” I say, “Welcome. You are supposed to be here. We have been waiting for you and are prepared to provide you with an amazing journey.”

Every student has a story. I am so fortunate to be president at a place that is so student-centered and provides opportunities for students to tell their stories and write the next chapter based on their MU experience.

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